Colca Canyon is the world’s second deepest canyon (10,370 feet deep), about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The hiking trails to explore the canyon are in the middle section, which is not as deep.
To get to the canyon, we took a 7.5 hour bus ride from Cusco to Chivay. We went through the Andes Mountains, reaching nearly 15,000′ elevation.
We stayed the night in Chivay (located on the canyon’s eastern end). From Chivay, we boarded a 4:00am bus (we’ve been up early most days of our trip so far). We got off the bus at 5:30am at the condor viewing area (Mirador el Condor) on the canyon’s rim. It was quite cold when we arrived there, and we layered on all our warm clothing as waited for the condor.
At around 7am, we spotted one some distance away. Before long, there were four condor soaring back and forth in front of the viewing area. Their wings span 9 feet and they are magnificent to watch.
At around 8am, we left the condor viewing area and started our hike down to the bottom of the canyon. Along the way, we encountered free range horses and more spectacular condors.
As we hiked down, an adorable stray dog started to follow us. This dog ended up not leaving our side until we finished hiking back out of the canyon the next day.
It took 8 hours to hike from the condor viewing area to Llahuar Lodge at the canyon’s bottom, where we stayed the night. It was a total of 17 miles, with 797 feet ascent and 5,695 feet descent (according to my Garmin). We were carrying our full packs, which made the hiking more exhausting. I was completely wiped by the time we arrived at the lodge. The accommodations were basically beds in sheds. The best thing about the place is that there are hot springs just below. We headed there immediately upon arrival. It was so nice to enjoy a relaxing soak after the long day of hiking.
The next morning, we started our hike back out of the canyon just before 5:30am. I was apprehensive about how my body would handle the steep climb back out, especially knowing my pack would feel even heavier on the way up. I knew it was going to be tough climb out, going down the day before was hard enough.
We had 3 dogs follow us out that morning, and picked up a 4th dog along the way. Watching how the dogs effortlessly and happily trekked up helped keep my spirits up.
A couple hours in, we saw a man with two horses coming down the trail ahead of us. It appeared he had them both on ropes. We stepped off the trail a few feet to allow plenty of room for them to pass. As we waited off trail, all of a sudden, one of the horses charged down the mountain at the dogs and in the process almost charged into us. Everything ended up OK, but it was really scary because we were on a steep slope, with really no where to go but straight down the mountain. My heart was beating so fast. The only bright side was that it spiked my adrenaline, giving me an extra boost for the next section of climbing.
I was struggling on the way up, and Jay graciously carried my pack for 10 minutes of each hour to give my back and shoulders a break. It was so much easier hiking without the pack on, and those 10 minutes of reprieve each hour really helped get me through it.
We were trying to make an 11:30am bus in Cabanaconde, so only took a couple short breaks on the way up. It ended up taking us almost 5 hours to reach the top of the canyon at Cabanaconde. The hike out was a total of 8 miles, with an ascent of 4,200.
As we approach Cabanaconde, the end of our trek, we see a couple things we’ve never seen hiking in Colorado…
About 6 years ago, Jay and I hiked down the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up as a day hike. I remember it was tough, but tackling this canyon over 2 days seemed a lot tougher to me. I think because of the higher elevation of this canyon and carrying a heavier pack.
As I type this, we’re on the bus leaving the canyon and I’m feeling physically and mentally exhausted. Yet, I’m also feeling a sense of gratitude. My body may be getting older, but with each passing year, life experience is making me stronger and more resilient person.